Hen Harriers still holding on: 2003 breeding season figures published

Female Hen Harrier
Female Hen Harrier (Photo: BirdGuides)

English Nature published the 2003 breeding figures for the endangered Hen Harrier today. The facts show that this rare bird of prey is still holding on in its traditional English strongholds despite a number of setbacks earlier in the spring.

There were 22 nesting attempts in England this year involving at least 18 territorial females. From these attempts, there were 8 successful nests which resulted in 26 fledged young.

There were 14 failed breeding attempts:

  • Natural factors, such as poor weather or predation appeared to account for the loss of five nests;
  • Three nests were burnt out as the result of moorland fires in April;
  • Six nests were lost under circumstances suggesting illegal persecution

In 2002, there were 7 successful nests that fledged 22 young.

These breeding data were gathered by field staff as part of English Nature's Hen Harrier Recovery Project which is now in its second year. The project aims to establish the reasons for the low population of Hen Harriers in England through monitoring the birds and their nests. Radio tracking is being used to follow birds across the English uplands and is producing some interesting results. Young birds have already been recorded moving between the Bowland Fells, the North Yorkshire Moors, the North Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales, often travelling large distances every day. The tracking also showed that a peregrine falcon took a juvenile Hen Harrier fledged from one of the eight successful English nests. It is hoped that the surviving birds can be tracked back to their moorland breeding sites next spring.

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Richard Saunders, the Hen Harrier recovery project officer said, "Despite its extreme rarity in England, conserving the Hen Harrier remains unpopular with some people and it is unfortunately still a target for persecution. However, on behalf of English Nature I would like to extend our thanks to the owners and gamekeepers of grouse moors where we have received support and to the Moorland Association, Game Conservancy Trust and RSPB for their continued co-operation and assistance."

The three-year project is considering, in the light of the data gathered so far, the options for the future conservation of this magnificent bird of prey. The project will report to English Nature's Council with its conclusions and recommendations.

Sir Martin Doughty, Chair of English Nature said, "The Hen Harrier continues to hang on in low numbers at the brink of extinction in England. Given the adversities this magnificent bird has to contend with, both natural and man-made, it is truly remarkable that it survives at all."

For more information about the Hen Harrier Recovery Project contact Richard Saunders, Hen Harrier Recovery Project Officer - 01539 792800. Richard would be particularly interested to hear about any sightings of wing-tagged birds.
Written by: English Nature